Clean Coal Technologies, Nuclear

Energy Hits the Limelight

Issue 3 and Volume 110.

By Teresa Hansen, Associate Editor

After years of lackadaisical concern – and in some years no concern – about our country’s energy supply, is our nation’s need for new, clean energy supplies finally getting the attention it deserves? On President’s Day, President Bush began a weeklong effort to, according to his administration, bring the energy ideas he discussed in his State of the Union address to the attention of the American people. The President is said to be putting energy in the same category of importance as health care and education. Of course, considering the progress (or lack of progress) in health care and education in past years, being elevated to the same status as these two issues may not be a good thing.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush emphasized that, to keep our country’s economy growing, we need “reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy.” He said his proposed budget “provides strong funding for leading-edge technology – from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol.” Since his address, the President’s proposed fiscal year 2007 budget has been released. I’m not going to attempt to address all the energy-related budget requests, but I do want to highlight a few important areas.

According to Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, two initiatives the President discussed in his State of the Union address are critical to the Department of Energy’s future and to our country’s evolution from a petroleum-based economy. First, is the American Competitiveness Initiative. The President committed to doubling the budget of the combined offices of the Department of Energy’s Science Office, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology over the next 10 years. This substantial budget increase is directed in each of these three areas at supporting research in the physical sciences, which is expected to include many energy-related research and development activities.

The second critical initiative, according to Secretary Bodman, is the Advanced Energy Initiative, which is aimed at making sure America has reliable, affordable and clean energy supplies necessary to keep it competitive. The Advanced Energy Initiative focuses on two vital areas:

  1. Changing the way American’s fuel their vehicles; and,
  2. Changing the way American’s power their homes and businesses.

Both areas are extremely important, but for this editorial, I want to concentrate on the Initiative’s discussion of powering our homes and businesses. One of the main focuses of this Initiative is to reduce our country’s growing appetite for natural gas, especially as a fuel for electricity generation. By diversifying our electric power sector, the Bush Administration believes our country can have affordable electricity and an affordable, ample supply of natural gas to fuel U.S. industries, making our country more competitive in the global market. Therefore, one of the Initiative’s main goals is to accelerate future technologies in three promising areas: clean coal technology, nuclear power, and renewable solar and wind energy. Obviously, adequate funding will be required to meet these goals.

During his 2000 campaign, President Bush committed to investing $2 billion over 10 years to fund research in clean coal technologies. One of the Advanced Energy Initiative’s main goals is to complete this commitment to clean coal technology research funding and move the resulting innovations into the marketplace. The President’s proposed 2007 budget includes $281 million for a Coal Research Initiative. If approved, this amount will nearly complete his $2 billion commitment four years early. The proposed budget includes $54 million for FutureGen, the flagship demonstration project for clean coal technology. In addition to this proposed funding, the Office of Fossil Energy had a balance of more than $500 million at the end of fiscal year 2005 that will also be used to continue clean coal technology research.

To advance nuclear energy, the Advanced Energy Initiative proposes developing a new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) to address spent nuclear fuel, eliminate proliferation risks and expand the promise of clean, reliable and affordable nuclear energy. Under this partnership, America will work with nations like France, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia – countries with advanced civilian nuclear energy programs – to develop and deploy innovative, advanced reactors and new methods to recycle spent nuclear fuel. The GNEP will not only promote the deployment of advanced reactors and new spent fuel recycling methods, it should also reduce waste and eliminate many of the nuclear byproducts that can be used to make weapons. The President’s proposed 2007 budget contains $250 million for the GNEP.

In addition to the GNEP funding, the 2007 budget contain $31.4 million for Generation IV, a program designed to improve efficiency, sustainability and proliferation resistance of advanced nuclear systems. Another $54 million is tagged for Nuclear Power 2010, which should pave the way for new, advanced light-water reactors by 2010. The Office of Radioactive Waste Management requested $544.5 million for further development of the Yucca Mountain Project and $67.8 million for the development of transportation infrastructure and establishment of a long-term procurement plan for transportation activities. Approval of this nuclear portion of the budget should be a big shot in the arm for the nuclear energy industry.

A third goal of the Advanced Energy Initiative is renewables: to reduce the cost of solar photovoltaic technologies so that they become cost-competitive by 2015 and to expand access to wind energy through technology. To fulfill solar energy’s promise, the President’s proposed 2007 budget requests $148 million for solar development – an increase of $65 million over the 2006 budget. To expand wind energy, the 2007 budget includes $44 million for wind energy research – a $5 million increase over 2006.

These figures represent only a small portion of the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2007 budget request of $23.6 billion. It’s also important to remember that by the time the House and Senate actually approve the 2007 budget, the numbers will likely be much different. Nevertheless, the fact that the Advanced Energy Initiative was written, that it includes a substantial focus on developing cutting-edge electricity generation technologies, and that the Bush Administration has included funding for the Initiative in its proposed budget, sure beats anything we’ve seen in recent years. Let’s just hope it progresses better than its equally important counterparts – health care and education.